Parashat Ki Tetze
August 17, 2013 – 11 Elul 5773
Annual: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 (Etz Hayim p. 1112; Hertz p. 840)
Triennial: Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19 (Etz Hayim p. 1130; Hertz p. 852)
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10 (Etz Hayim p. 1138; Hertz p. 857)
Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
(Temple Emanuel of North Jersey; Franklin Lakes, NJ)
Parashat Ki Tetzei has the greatest number of mitzvot than any other parasha in the Torah, though the exact number is disputed. Among the commandments and legal categories addressed are the following: the treatment of women taken captive in time of war; the treatment of the "stubborn and rebellious son"; return of lost property; obligation to assist the owner of an animal that has fallen under its burden; the requirement to chase off a mother bird before taking its eggs or its young and the reward for fulfilling this imperative; the requirement to build a parapet on your roof and to remove analogous safety hazards from your property; the commandment to wear fringes; laws about slander; the legal ramifications of adultery and rape and a variety of marital restrictions; conduct and sanitation in a military camp; the treatment to be accorded an escaped slave; sexual conduct deemed immoral and therefore prohibited; the prohibition against usury; mandates about vows; the legal parameters guiding someone working in a vineyard or field of crops; the fundamental laws of divorce; the special obligations and military exemption attending the first year of marriage; the securing of a debt; the legal treatment of kidnapping; the authority of priests in cases of leprosy; the fair treatment of laborers and the obligation to provide prompt payment of workers. Fundamental legal principles are addressed: individual responsibility and the principle that people are punished only for their own sins, not the sin of their parents or children; the obligation to deal justly with the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. The obligation to provide justice for society's most vulnerable finds specific expression in the requirement to leave forgotten sheaves and gleanings for the desperate poor. Concern for animals is given expression through the prohibition against muzzling a plow animal at work, keeping it from eating. The law of levirate marriage and its circumvention by the ritual of chalitzah is introduced. The requirement of honest weights and measures, and the more general principle of integrity in commerce are detailed. The parashah concludes with the requirement to "remember what Amalek did" – that bellicose nation's merciless attack on the weakest parts of the Israelite camp. Israel is to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." These final verses are read as the eponymic maftir aliyah on Shabbat Zachor, just before Purim.
Theme #1: "Kith 'n Cousins"
"You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land." (Deuteronomy 23:8)
"Despite the hostility between Israel and Edom, Edomites are not permanently excluded from the assembly because they are the Israelites' kin. The Edomites were traced back to Esau, brother of Jacob... Despite their enslavement of the Israelites, the Egyptians had provided a haven in a time of famine, for which Israel was to recognize a continuing debt of gratitude." (Chumash Etz Hayyim)
"The expression Edomite (deriving as it does from adom; 'red') may be taken as an allegory for sin, for it is written in the Book of Isaiah (1:18) 'Though your sins be red as crimson.' Hence the Scriptural verse may be interpreted: 'Do not regard your sins as wasted threads of crimson, for you can turn them into your brothers by transforming them into merits through repentance, and they will speak in your favor, as the Sages say: 'Acts of insolence will become as merits for him.'" (Yesod Ha-Torah)
"Even the vivid memory of centuries of enslavement in Egypt does not lead to hatred. The Egyptians were judged at the time of liberation and suffered for the injustice they had inflicted on the Jews, but the episode was not to result in an eternal gulf between two peoples. The verse proscribing hatred adds a reason: 'for you were a stranger in his land.' Perhaps therein lies a suggestion that Jewish memory focus instead on the good that happened in Egypt... Here is an attempt to search memory and to recall the good." (Rabbi Sheldon Lewis)
"The key to convincing the other side that reconciliation is possible is to give an unequivocal signal of turning one's back on the past." (Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg) "Those who say we should forgive and forget, have nothing to forgive and nothing to forget. I cannot forgive. I cannot forget." (John Klein, Holocaust survivor and partisan fighter, quoted in When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust)
Questions for Discussion
Is it true that the defining collective Jewish memory of Egypt is that of a safe haven in the Patriarchal Period? Do not the years of peaceful coexistence and Israelite loyalty to their hosts actually render their subsequent betrayal by Egypt all the more abhorrent?
What are the practical, political implications of our verse's mandate to offer consideration and a measure of reconciliation to Esau's (or by extension, say, Ishmael's) descendants? Is distant common ancestry sufficient cause to keep "back channels" open... and to stop short of total rejection? Is lack of such common origins license to "abhor" our detractors and historic foes?
What models of Jewish reconciliation with former enemies should drive our national ethos... or Israeli geo-politics? Israel's diplomatic and economic ties with Germany? The "peace" with Egypt? Jordan? How do we observe the verse under study in an age when we cannot identify the Edomites? How do the limitations to the ideal of reconciliation articulated by John Klein apply to these relationships?
How are the national relationships discussed in our verse applicable to our personal experiences with conflict and reconciliation? Are there family betrayals that are beyond our ability to forgive? Consider Yesod Ha-Torah: are there personal sins which we commit that are beyond the reach of sincere Teshuvah? Are there sins for which we cannot forgive ourselves?
Theme #2: "Give 'em 2.5 cm, and they'll take 1.6 km"
"You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that the Lord your God is giving you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 25:15-16)
"The punishment for the person who uses false measures is more severe than the punishment for licentious sexual behavior, for the latter is a sin between one person and another, and this is a sin between a person and God. Whoever denies the mitzvah of just measures is considered as if he denied the Exodus from Egypt, which is the first of God's (ten) commandments. Conversely, one who accepts the mitzvah of just measures is considered as if he acknowledges the Exodus from Egypt, which brought about all of God's commandments." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah)
"The Torah is indeed concerned about false weights and measures, but these are only symbols of all kinds of falsity and duplicity that exist in our lives, as the Torah itself concludes in the last verse of our parashah – 'For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.' Notice that when the Torah speaks of a dishonest weight, the location is in the pouch or bag, whereas the false measure is located in the house. What Scriptures is telling us is that honesty and uprightness must be found not only when we are on the outside... but also at home, when we are dealing with our family and our loved ones." (Rabbi Isaac Mann)
"Fair enough. Straightforward, clear. Be an honest business owner. Just after that, we read, 'Remember what Amalek did to you after you left Egypt....you shall blot out the memory of Amalek...do not forget!' ...The Amalekites fought dirty, and everyone knew it. They attacked from the rear, picking off the weak and the elderly, the stragglers who were most vulnerable... There are social threats from within and from outside. Dishonest and unscrupulous business dealings also pick out the most vulnerable in society... When a society has stopped trying to root out such evildoers from their midst... society can begin to crumble from within. We have only to look at the burst bubbles and houses of cards that our economy is still trying to rebuild from to see what ensues when the people who are supposed to be keeping their eyes on the ball, blink... This is no less threatening to a just society than the opportunistic picking off of the stragglers in battle." (Anita Silvert)
"Confidence... thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Questions for Discussion
What is the connection between honest weights and measures and the prospect of "enduring long" in the Land of Israel? The erosion of confidence in society and its economy and personal relationships born of deception (see FDR)? The slippery slope from economic exploitation to the physical abuse of the vulnerable (a la Silvert)? The denial of God implicit in dishonest interpersonal dealings (Maimonides)?
Consider Rabbi Mann's homiletical approach. Is honesty in the workplace (in commerce) a more or less challenging demand than honesty with our loved ones and families? How do we demonstrate honest "measures" at home? Is honesty, indeed, an absolute value in our every family dealing?
Weights and measures are paradigmatic. In what other ways do we demonstrate "honesty, honor, the sacredness of obligations" in the workplace? In our relationships to our broader community and country? In our relationships to the State of Israel? In the congregational setting?
Parashat Ki Tetzei, read on August 17, 2013, deals extensively with laws of warfare: treatment of captives, maintenance of the military camp, and draft exemptions. On August 17, 1943, seventy years ago today, General George Patton entered Messina, Italy, completing the allied conquest of Sicily. British Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery and his 8th Army arrived several hours later.
Jewish divorce law and the "get" – the document of divorce through which marriage is dissolved – find their origins in our parashah: Deuteronomy 24:14. The Rabbinical Assembly maintains a compulsory "Standard of Rabbinic Practice" stating that a Conservative rabbi may not solemnize the marriage of a previously married, divorced man unless he has given a get to his former wife... nor of a divorced woman if she has not received a get from her former husband. Plans to enter a second marriage are thus often the catalyst to securing a get. It is proper, however, to execute a get immediately upon dissolution (or irretrievable breakdown) of a marriage, whether or not either party plans to remarry. Notwithstanding their status in civil law, Jewish Law views a "divorced" couple's marriage as intact until a get is properly executed: that is, despite their civil divorce, the couple is stilled married. (See Rashi on 24:1 for the get as a mitzvah, a commanded obligation.)